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Open Political Science

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The Role of Trust in Political Systems. A Philosophical Perspective

Friedel Weinert
Published Online: 2018-03-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/openps-2017-0002


The paper analyzes the question of whether trust is an essential condition for the functioning of social and political systems; it approaches the issue from a philosophical perspective. Trust appears in both interpersonal relationships (interpersonal trust) and in societal and political institutions (social and political trust, respectively). In the political literature trust is sometimes characterized as ‘an expectation of continued value’. Although the same literature distinguishes social from political trust, the thesis advanced here is that, logically, all forms of trust must be characterized as an inductive generalization from past experience to future expectations of the continuation of some specifiable utilities (goods, services). As such, trust suffers from Humean reservations about inductive inferences. Trust as an expectation of the continued provision of utilities, on the institutional level, will be characterized as a first-order sort of trust. It can be disappointed without necessarily threatening the continuation of a given institution, especially if there is no alternative service provider. But trust as an expectation of the continued functioning of democratic mechanisms will be characterized as a second-order sort of trust. The paper will argue that the second-order kind of trust is essential for the functioning of democracies.

Keywords: Democracy; Democratic Mechanisms; Dictatorship; Institutional Trust; Interpersonal Trust; First-order and second-order trust; Inductive Inferences; Necessary and Sufficient Conditions


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About the article

Received: 2017-11-13

Accepted: 2018-02-21

Published Online: 2018-03-24

Citation Information: Open Political Science, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 7–15, ISSN (Online) 2543-8042, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/openps-2017-0002.

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© 2018. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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